Charles BabcockEditor At Large, InformationWeek
Editor At Large, InformationWeek
VMware CEO Causes Public Cloud Stir
Ever since the Amazon cloud and its competitors took shape beginning in 2006, it has been an open question: Would the enterprise's use of cloud technology grow up from inside the data center, then proceed to a similar environment outside? Or would the public cloud architecture prevail and be imposed on commercial data centers?
These two models originated in different places. Google and Amazon offered the clearest examples of what scale-out architecture could look like. Compared to the typical enterprise, the Amazon model looked simple, uniform, highly automated and highly elastic -- more virtual servers could be added on command for a given workload, or physical servers could be added to the cloud's cluster itself, as needed. The fact that search and online retailing consisted of a few high-powered applications, designed to scale out, helped. They posed a completely different set of requirements than needed by the typical mixed-use enterprise.
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Nevertheless, the new architecture appeared to offer an infinite capacity to expand; it could distribute seemingly endless amounts of compute cycles to a business or consumer. That was one of the distinguishing features of the cloud, along with its on-demand delivery and competitive pricing, compared to hosted services or other forms of outsourcing.
So why, then, would VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger sound so dead set against the public cloud model in his remarks to partners at VMware's Partner Exchange Conference in Las Vegas Feb. 27, as reported by InformationWeek's sister publication CRN. "We want to own the corporate workload," said Gelsinger. "We all lose if they end up in these commodity public clouds. We want to extend our franchise from the private cloud into the public cloud and uniquely enable our customers with the benefits of both. Own the corporate workload now and forever."
[ Want to learn more about VMware's tricky relationship with cloud? See VMware Earnings, Examined. ]
In saying VMware wants to "own the corporate workload," Gelsinger isn't disclosing anything new or particularly surprising. VMware has made it clear that it wishes to virtualize and manage all corporate workloads in the enterprise data center as part of its plan for the data center of the future. Given a chance to supply more context through a transcript or to modify the exact quote, VMware spokesmen have declined to do so. So Gelsinger's words have to stand as noted. What's different about them is the opposition to public clouds that don't bear the VMware label.
As Gelsinger's comments were aired, Forrester analyst James Staten and other cloud gurus pointed out that Gelsinger was saying VMware wants to prevent the enterprise from placing its application workloads in a commodity public cloud environment, such as Amazon Web Services. Its competitors have assumed as much, and feared VMware's growing power. But Staten said Gelsinger had taken the unusual step of "demonizing" public clouds.
Until now, VMware executives have been more circumspect. They have taken pains to say it won't be an all-VMware world, even if they'd like it to be, and they have plans to reach out to the non-VMware parts of it.
VMware's main public cloud play was to encourage some public cloud providers, such as Bluelock and CSC in the United States, Singtel in Singapore or Softbank in Japan, to be close partners. They could host VMware-based enterprise workloads in their public clouds, using a VMware cloud stack.
VMware has also made gestures toward supporting other public cloud providers. These have been half-hearted, such as supporting the OVF format from the DMTF standards body, which allows VMware workloads to be imported from ESX Server into Microsoft, Citrix Systems, Amazon Web Services and other environments. But VMware has refused to stand in the way of cooperation, until now.
However, VMware partners such as Softbank in Japan, Colt in Europe and Bluelock in the U.S. are not taking market share at the rate of Amazon Web Services. Amazon has many competitors but no equals, and it's unlikely to have a peer anytime soon.
The VMware strategy was only working for a few VMware customers, who agreed to play on the reservation, and it may have been this fact that prompted Gelsinger's comments. Customers are ready for the cloud before VMware's vCloud Director suite seems to be ready to provide it.
The ability to expand the service supplied on demand is one key feature. According to Randy Bias, a respected voice in cloud computing, VMware shields its cloud services' APIs from public view. It puts an easy-to-use front end on them, but the APIs behind them can be changed to not work as before, leaving customers who want to manage the connection on their own in the dark.